Penn State’s Danae Rivers (Narrowly) and Kansas’ Bryce Hoppel (Convincingly) Win 2019 NCAA Indoor 800 Titles

March 9, 2019

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Penn State’s Danae Rivers, the collegiate record holder at 1000, went from 5th to 1st in the final 50 meters and nipped Penn’s Nia Akins just before the line to win the women’s 800 tonight at the 2019 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Rivers won in 2:03.69 as Akins, who moved to the lead with an inside pass at the start of the final turn, ran 2:03.74.

Watch the final half lap of the women’s race below:

In the men’s race, Kansas’ Bryce Hoppel remained undefeated on the year as he pulled away convincingly from Canadian champ Marco Arop of Mississippi State in the finishing straight to win in 1:46.46 as Arop was second in his second straight NCAAs in 1:47.00. Texas A&M’s Devin Dixon, the American collegiate record holder, was never in contention for the win on the final lap and ended up fourth in 1:47.54 after leading early. The key to Hoppel’s win was his final lap, which he ran in 26.57 — almost a full second faster than anyone else in the field (Georgetown’s Joseph White was next-best at 27.49).

Watch the final 17 seconds of the men’s race below:

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Women’s Results *Lap by lap splits
1 Danae RIVERS JR Penn State 2:03.69
2 Nia AKINS JR Penn 2:03.74 PB
3 Rachel POCRATSKY SR Virginia Tech 2:04.04
4 Allie WILSON SR Monmouth 2:04.12
5 Martha BISSAH JR Norfolk State 2:04.48
6 Susan ANENO SR Connecticut 2:05.86
7 Kelsey HARRIS SR Indiana 2:06.99
8 Jazmine FRAY SR Texas A&M 2:07.55Men’s Results *Lap by lap splits
1 Bryce HOPPEL JR Kansas 1:46.46 PB FR
2 Marco AROP SO Miss State 1:47.00
3 Robert HEPPENSTALL SR Wake Forest 1:47.45
4 Devin DIXON JR Texas A&M 1:47.54
5 Cooper WILLIAMS SO Indiana 1:47.69
6 Joseph WHITE SR Georgetown 1:48.19
7 Isaiah JEWETT JR USC 1:48.47
8 Michael RHOADS JR Air Force 1:48.49
9 Domenic PERRETTA JR Penn State 1:48.81

Quick Take: Bryce Hoppel finally got his shot at the big boys, and he took it

Dixon and Arop soaked up much of the attention heading into the meet after both men broke 1:46 this year, but Hoppel, who was 4th at NCAA outdoors, hadn’t lost a race all season and was biding his time, waiting for a chance to face the best in the country. He got that chance today and took full advantage, running a sound tactical race to earn the win.

“I see those guys run amazing times at the beginning [of the season] and I kind of feel left out,” Hoppel said. “I don’t get to be at those meets and run alongside them. But I knew I’d have my chance at them at the end, and that’s what happened.”

Hoppel is the first Kansas athlete to win an NCAA 800 title. If you watched the ESPN broadcast, they said Jim Ryun won an 800 title, but that’s not true.

Quick Take: Devin Dixon & Marco Arop had the right race plans, they just got outrun by Hoppel

Dixon knew his best shot to win was taking this race from the front, and he did that, getting to the lead by 200 and hitting 400 in 51.20. That’s quick, but not ridiculously quick, so it was a surprise to see Dixon slow to 28.58 and get passed on lap three, after which he was never a factor. Not a bad plan, but not a good result given he entered the meet as the third-fastest collegian of all time.

Arop made hard moves on the third lap at SECs and in yesterday’s prelims, and neither worked very well. Today, he again moved on the third lap, but he measured it much better, holding the lead until the home straight. Though he had to settle for second again, he can’t be unhappy with how he ran.

And in the end, we have to give credit to Hoppel, who had way more in the tank on the last lap. Closing in 26.57 in an indoor 800 is tough to beat.

Quick Take: Danae Rivers never lost her cool this weekend, despite being in 5th place on the final straight

Rivers looked a little shaky in her prelim yesterday, finishing 4th and having to rely on a time qualifier to the final. But she said afterwards that she wasn’t worried, as she’s had to rely on time qualifiers in the past.

And today, she once again relied on her experience to keep her wits about her and win her first national title.

“I was like fourth, fifth? I don’t know,” Rivers said. “I’ve been in that position before, so I’m just like, if I’m right here, and my coach is telling me everybody could close down the same, so I’m like, I can close down the same too, let’s go.”

Like Hoppel in the men’s race, Rivers had the fastest final 200 in the race (31.35), and in reality she was even faster than that as she had to run most of the final turn in lane 2 to pass.

Quick Take: The Ivy Leaguer Nia Akins almost won it all as the 10th seed

Akins came in unheralded but she ran a tactically brilliant race and nearly emerged as the national champ thanks to an inside pass on the rail of two people heading into the final 100.

If you had never heard of Akins before tonight, we can understand as this was her first NCAA final. Akins was a 2:08.91 performer in HS in California. As a freshman at Penn, she modestly improved to 2:08.09 before finding her stride during her sophomore year when she ran 2:04.97 at NCAA regionals to make it ot NCAAs (didn’t make the final). This year indoors she ran 2:04.74 on February 15 to solidify her spot at NCAAs before dropping into the 2:03s today.

Quick Take: How the heck did Nia Akins pass three people on the inside during the final 150 meters?

It’s crazy to us that in an indoor 800, where positioning is key, multiple people would give Akins the space to pass them on the inside of lane 1 on the final lap. But that’s what happened as Akins moved from fourth to first in a matter of seconds, going by UConn’s Susan Aneno and Monmouth’s Allie Wilson by hugging the rail.

One of the big advantages of being ahead of someone in an indoor race is that it can be tough for others to pass — the straightaways aren’t long, and passing on the turn requires extra distance. To cede that advantage by allowing someone to pass you on the inside is baffling.


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